Archangel

My father's name was the name 
of an archangel: but not the one
whose figure was plastered on every
clear bottle of Ginebra San Miguel,
lance raised over the cowering
figure of Satan, backlit wings
resplendent in gold and orange.
Ling, his friends called him; short
for Iling, Gabrielito, Gabrieling—
all the ways in which the sound
of the diminutive could tinkle
like the last ice cube in a glass
before melting. It was a time
when people swore allegiances
that they might revoke in private;
when unconfiscated copies of a new
biography of the dictator's wife
were passed around in secret.
He hid the paperback in a sock
drawer and took it out to read
at night. My mother and I
could read it too, only if we
promised to put it back. The author
described how the dictator's wife
and her mother lived in the garage
of her father's house: genteel
poverty, the old-fashioned value
of saving face. In school, where
every now and then I heard
whispers that I'd been adopted,
I learned the angel who shared
my father's name was the one
who appeared to the Virgin
Mary. She shouldn't be alarmed
that she'd stopped menstruating,
as she was carrying God's child.
Did the angel himself, in person or
as my father, bring the unexpected
news of my arrival as well?

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